British Airways First Class Upgrades Still a Great Use of Avios

British Airways had amazing business class fares that allowed use of stackable discounts this fall. Some people were booking business class tickets between the US and Europe for less than $500 in cash (plus points), for instance.

With British Airways devaluing its points back in April upgrades became more expensive from premium economy to business class for flights 2001 miles or or longer. But for upgrades from business class to first class you’re still paying what a coach award ticket would cost in miles for the flight with no cash co-pay. And even deep discount business class fares are upgradeable. “Only the lowest economy fares (Q, O and G) cannot be upgraded with Avios”

British Airways First Class

British Airways first class isn’t one of the world’s best, though it’s better than business class. The cabin is gorgeous. And I find the smaller cabin (relative to business) to be more restful. The aircraft makes a difference as well, with the Airbus A380 better than the 777 better than the 747.

A little under two weeks ago, ExpertFlyer added support for British Airways ‘special classes’. That means I was able to set an alert for upgrade space opening up, and once it did they sent me an email.

British Airways doesn’t waitlist for upgrades. The space opens up and it’s first come first served. So there may well have been British Airways elites on much more expensive tickets than me who would have loved to upgrade from business to first. But thanks to Expert Flyer, I’ve got the upgrades.

British Airways First Class

The IT process involved doesn’t always go smoothly:

  • I went online to try to upgrade but as I’ve most often found the website failed when trying to process an upgrade.

  • So I rang up the US Executive Club number. They took my information, verified availability, and then transferred me to the UK call center.

  • The UK call center then had to change their point of sale, because they couldn’t process a US member’s points for an upgrade while their computers appeared to be doing so from the UK. It still wouldn’t process. A supervisor couldn’t get it to go through.

  • The agent and her supervisor processed the upgrade manually, taking the points out themselves. No difference in taxes or fees, they pulled out 45,000 Avios for two passengers. I expected a cost of 50,000 points [the difference between a business and first class award, i.e. the cost of a coach award, for 2 passengers on a just-under 5000 mile flight].

I was happy to draw down my 600,000 Avios balance. At 4500 or 7500 points per award I haven’t been spending those quickly enough.

We’ll see whether I fly business or first class on my return from London, but for my overnight flight I’ve got the upgrade. I have my British Airways account number in the reservation for ease of processing upgrades, which I will switch before my outbound departure. For ease I do hope space opens up on the return before then, but I’ll manage either way — I definitely want to be crediting the flight to my American AAdvantage account and not to BA.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. With all the report on FT about how horrible FC is on BA, why would anyone want to upgrade to it?

  2. 50k for a roundtrip upgrade….

    Not a great ‘value’ for most, but if you’re swimming in Avios like you and are paying cash for biz class then have fun.

    Would probably rather give free domestic flights to family / friends.

    But that’s a free market.

  3. @Jerry Mandel – Believe it or not, some people actually PAY for tickets, in which case the fuel surcharge is irrelevant since it’s buried in the overall fare.

  4. @pssteve – I called early in the morning so there wasn’t much of a wait, process took minutes not hours, but ba call center wait times can get quite long

  5. We took advantage of fare sale in November. Flew business class Den-Chicago-London and direct London-Denver back. I stupidly transferred Amex points ahead to Avios because I thought I could apply points to cost of ticket. BA website would only allow $75 of ticket to be paid with points. Then called everyday for two weeks to try to upgrade, nothing ever opened up. The day of each flight would have been able to pay about $700-$800 cash each seat at BA club and buy upgrade. Agents at club said there were 6-8 seats open on each flight. Never seemed to open for upgrade. Call center process tedious and ranged from very cheerful to curt and short. No way to do through website and very roundabout trying to check availability through BA site. Won’t fly them again if I can avoid it. Business class very tight, weird seating and very mediocre food. Lounge in Chicago crowded and worn.

  6. Thanks for this post, Gary, as I also took advantage of this great deal but wasn’t aware of the upgrade strategy.

    I know you already mentioned this. But just to reconfirm: am I correct in understanding that you first use your BA membership number and points to upgrade, and then switch back to your AA membership number to accrue the AA miles?

  7. @tony you’re smart, i’m stupid. i paid $318 + 30m avios for bus class 6 day holiday in Barcelona and $414 + 30m avios business for 4 days in London. for that i received 88k AA miles (25k per RT transatlantic I fare bonus) and AA ExP status into 2017 via a challenge.

    but after reading your comment, i now realize how stupid i was/am. 🙁 what a terrible waste of my hard earned $732. teach me, Tony- please………. teach me to be smart like you.

  8. Hello,

    You mentioned wanting to direct your BA flight points to American.

    I would check the fine print about that. The first and only time I flew BA (I absolutely refuse now) was the week they changed their mileage rules so that you only receive 1/4 of the miles you actually fly if you put your miles in any other mileage program but theirs.

    So, I received full credit flying to EU. BUT I only received 1/4 credit on the return because I wanted the credits to go tony Alaska acct. They were rude beyond belief when I called to inquire about it.

    Besides the mileage issue, they were the rudest flight attendants I have EVER had.

  9. Oops…. Forgot this part….

    …. admittedly that was awhile ago… They may have changed their rules since then.
    But I suggest checking anyway.

  10. Glad to hear ththe comments about calling in the morning. I find it frustrating that although my call is important to them, I am always on hold for at least 30 minutes before I get an agent. I will set my alarm for 6am and try then. Do you have a upgrade distant chart?

  11. Upgraded JFK-LHR-JFK for 18K Avios each way (C to F) in a couple weeks. PITA dealing with the call center but worked out well enough.

    @Steve – your BA # (where your Avios come from) and your AA # (where you accrue & what you likely use for elite recognition, lounges, etc.) are separate things. I’ve never credited a flight to BAEC ever but have an account for award searching and for transferring Avios in for upgrades.

  12. @KP your experience is outdated. We flew on the sale fare in early Dec and I credited to AA. Points including transatlantic bonus, posted in less than 48 hours after completion of each one way flight with no issues at all.

  13. I wouldn’t fly BA business class even if my life depended on it. Worst business class product I’ve ever flown. Never flown BA first but I’m in no hurry to try it – especially at the risk of having to fly in business if the upgrade doesn’t clear.

  14. I just flew BA first from LAX to London on the 1st of this year. The hard product is not the best as you mentioned, it is a little tight for 1st in my opinion. There were a few things that bothered me on service side this flight:
    1) There are 14 1st class seats in first and 2 toilets on the 777ER that I flew on. On this day all 14 seats were taken. I found myself waiting for a toilet a couple of times. On Cathay or Japan in 1st, I have never had to wait for a toilet.
    2) Towards the end of the flight the toilet actually got a little dirty. This NEVER happened with Cathay or Japan since they service it every time after it was used.
    3) Service. They are warm enough however, they ran out of my choice of entree AND eventho cappuccino was on the menu I was told they can’t make it because the machine is broken. Huh? I think they are just lazy.

    Will I fly BA first again? May be, but I won’t go out of my way to do it.

  15. For all of you thinking you made the right choice, that is fine, this just means you haven’t flown LH or SQ to Europe in F.. Please continue to fly BA, thinking you are getting a truly FC experience…

  16. Tony, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that BA first class is up to the standards of LH or SQ. The point of this post is that BA sold a bunch of business class seats for dirt cheap prices, and these seats can be upgraded with Avios.

    Are there any dirt-cheap trans-Atlantic seats on LH or SQ that can be upgraded to first with just a few miles? If so, we’re all ears.

  17. When did the space open up? I’m curious how far out BA is opening up F availability. Anyone have any data points?

  18. If you put in the promo code, the offer still comes up. But if you go to the next page where you put shipping and payment details, you’ll find this direction: “Important: Please use the address that your credit/debit card is registered to.” As I don’t have a CC with a UK billing address, it would appear I’d be stuck with the L49 price – not nearly such a great deal.

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